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New UN envoy on first Somalia trip
MOGADISHU, 22 September 2007 - The United Nations' new envoy to Somalia, Ahmedou Ould Abdallah, held his first talks here Saturday with the embattled transitional government's top leaders, the UN said.
Meanwhile the Horn of Africa region continued to be plagued by violence as a roadside bomb killed a civilian in the Somali capital and six suspected extremists were detained in nearby Somaliland.
UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon's special representative discussed the results of a national reconciliation congress (NRC) that gathered more than a thousand clan leaders and wrapped up late last month.
"He called for the full implementation of the outcome of the NRC and urged for the broadening of the national reconciliation process," the UN Political Office for Somalia said in a statement.
The conference was boycotted by the interim government's main opponents.
Somalia's Islamist-led opposition held its own congress in the Eritrean capital Asmara earlier this month and formed a new alliance vowing to expel Ethiopian troops.
Neighbouring Ethiopia's army came to the transitional Somali government's rescue last year and defeated an Islamist militia that briefly controlled large parts of the country.
The remnants of the militia have since reverted to guerrilla tactics, launching almost daily hit-and-run attacks against government targets in Mogadishu.
During his brief visit to the Somali capital, Abdallah met President Abdullahi Yusuf Ahmed, Prime Minister Ali Mohamed and other officials.
"I came here and met with the president, the prime minster and also the chairman of the reconciliation congress (Ali Mahdi Mohamed) and we have discussed several issues," Abdallah told reporters before leaving Mogadishu.
"My impression is there is something to be done in Somalia and it must be done by the Somali people," he added.
Abdallah, a 57-year-old Mauritanian diplomat, was appointed on September 12 to replace outgoing Francois Fall as the top UN envoy in Somalia.
Even as the envoy held consultations with top leaders, the battered capital suffered its daily share of violent incidents.
A roadside bomb planted by suspected insurgents killed a civilian and wounded five policemen near a market area which has seen the worst of Mogadishu attacks in recent weeks, witnesses said.
"The target was a police vehicle that was passing near Bakara junction," witness Ismail Ali Mohamed told AFP.
A Somali police officer who asked not to be named said five policemen were also wounded in the blast but added their lives were not in danger.
According to an AFP count based on reports by hospital sources, at least 80 people have been killed in the Bakara market area alone since June, most of them civilians.
Police also said that suspected terrorists were detained near Buhudle, an area near the Ethiopian border disputed by the two breakaway states of Somaliland and Puntland.
"We arrested six people with four Land Rover vehicles. We investigated them and found they are from Somaliland," Buhudle police chief Abdullahi Adan Qarbi told AFP.
"They are normal businessmen, but this morning the Ethiopian forces crossed the border and told us they wanted to question those men," he said, adding the Ethiopian army had promised to hand them over after interrogation.
The police officer said no weapons or explosives were found on the suspects.
Somalia has lacked a central authority since 1991 when clan feuds led to the ouster of dictator Mohamed Siad Barre, touching off a power struggle that has defied numerous peace endeavours.
The United States meanwhile expressed strong concern Saturday about violent attacks on an independent radio station in Somalia, forcing it to shut down.
"We are gravely concerned about the recent violent attacks on the Shabelle Media Network in Mogadishu, Somalia, which threatened the lives of Shabelle Media employees and resulted in the Network's subsequent termination of its radio broadcasts," said State Department spokesman Sean McCormack in a statement.
"We call on the Transitional Federal Government to ensure the safety and protection of a free and independent media in Somalia. Shabelle Media Network and other Somali media organizations play a vital role in the continued political dialogue and reconciliation process in Somalia.
On Wednesday Shabelle shut down broadcasts after security forces surrounded its offices and opened fire, destroying equipment over the past two days.
Global media watchdogs have assailed the government, saying its crackdown on the independent press has made Somalia the world's second most dangerous place for journalists after Iraq.
At least seven journalists have been killed in Somalia this year and media watchdogs have urged all sides to ensure better protection for reporters, several of whom have also been wounded or robbed.